Shake That Thing – Preservation Hall Jazz BandWith Duke Dejan – Preservation Hall Hot 4Best of the Early Years – Preservation Hall Jazz Band
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In 1961, New Orleans' Dixieland-era jazz was on the verge of extinction.
With the advent of electric instrumentation, rhythm and blues and rock and
roll were capturing the nation's attention while the jazz world had become
heavily focused on bebop, hardbop, and more experimental forms of music.
The traditional music of Dixieland was getting lost in the shuffle until
tuba player Allan Jaffe and his wife Sandra made a bold decision. Opening
Preservation Hall in a dumpy little building in New Orleans' French Quarter,
the Jaffes created the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a group with a mission
to preserve the legacy of early New Orleans' jazz. After 43 years,
thousands of performances, and several prestigious world tours, Preservation
Hall is still going strong. Now the venerable institution has its own
record label and three impressive releases to start a new era.
Listening to Preservation Hall Hot 4 with Duke Dejan is akin to
traveling back in time. This scaled-down quartet of piano, bass, guitar,
and trumpet can seriously swing. Who needs drums when you have four
musicians who can cook backing the wizened vocals of Harold Dejan? The Hot
4 is aptly named, as they smoothly bounce through toe-tapping tracks, such
as "Corrina, Corrina," "Ain't She Sweet," and "Red Wing." A breezy,
carefree attitude seems to permeate the entire album, and the Hot 4 can even
find a silver lining in a downer like "Im Alone Because I Love You,"
turning the tune into a light-hearted stroll down the banks of the
Mississippi. This sentiment is echoed by the quartet's take on the classic
homage to their hometown of New Orleans, "Basin Street Blues," in which
Dejan delivers the bawdy innuendoes with casual flair. This type of
good-natured, upbeat but easygoing music is years beyond its heyday, but the
Hot 4 are so smooth that even the threat of extinction wouldn't faze them.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band: The Best of the Early Years is probably
the least interesting of these three recordings. Not quite a greatest hits
collection but more of an assemblage of outtakes and rare recordings, many
of these songs sound a bit dated to modern ears. Of course, that doesn't
mean that this music shouldn't be preserved, but funeral dirges, such as
"St. James Infirmary," are a bit difficult to digest. By the same token,
"Ain't Got Nobody" seems to cough, sputter, and die, enabling one to
understand why the singer is so damn lonely. However, this album isn't all
about tears and sorrow, as evidenced by the jubilant "Everything's Lovely,"
which at 51 seconds might just be the best song ever written under
one-minute in length. Festive cuts, such as "Down By The Riverside" and
"Olympia on Parade," create a wonderful party atmosphere, and the
traditional "When The Saints Go Marchin' In" erupts into the kind of
delicious organized chaos that is synonymous with this style of music.
Shake That Thing appears intent on forcing the listener to obey the
command of the title track. With a full compliment of musicians in tow, the
emphasis is thrust upon the shuffling rhythm section, and they succeed in
pushing the often raunchy songs to their limits. The percussion is quite
impressive in this band, and the drummer is able to successfully translate
interesting polyrhythms into danceable grooves. These grooves are
infectious, and it's pretty hard to sit still while listening to romps, such
as the title track and "Little Liza Jane." The rhythmic influence of
Preservation Hall even extends beyond the New Orleans border on the
Caribbean-influenced "Eh La Bas." Of course, this band has staked its
reputation on reaching out and grabbing the soul of ballads, and "Careless
Love" provides a great platform for the group to shuffle into a bluesy
grind. It's just one side of a multi-faceted band, and Shake That
Thing gives the Preservation Hall Jazz Band the opportunity to showcase
their many talents on an album that is seamless from start to finish.
Preservation Hall Recordings signals the next chapter in the famous
organization's history. From the start, Preservation Hall's faith has never
wavered in its lofty mission, and now that the Hall controls the keys to the
recording kingdom, we can be assured that this valuable music will continue
to be preserved for generations to come. Ain't that sweet?